Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950)

OX40- and CD27-mediated costimulation synergizes with anti-PD-L1 blockade by forcing exhausted CD8+ T cells to exit quiescence.

PMID 25404365


Exhaustion of chronically stimulated CD8(+) T cells is a significant obstacle to immune control of chronic infections or tumors. Although coinhibitory checkpoint blockade with anti-programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) Ab can restore functions to exhausted T cell populations, recovery is often incomplete and dependent upon the pool size of a quiescent T-bet(high) subset that expresses lower levels of PD-1. In a model in which unhelped, HY-specific CD8(+) T cells gradually lose function following transfer to male bone marrow transplantation recipients, we have explored the effect of shifting the balance away from coinhibition and toward costimulation by combining anti-PD-L1 with agonistic Abs to the TNFR superfamily members, OX40 and CD27. Several weeks following T cell transfer, both agonistic Abs, but especially anti-CD27, demonstrated synergy with anti-PD-L1 by enhancing CD8(+) T cell proliferation and effector cytokine generation. Anti-CD27 and anti-PD-L1 synergized by downregulating the expression of multiple quiescence-related genes concomitant with a reduced frequency of T-bet(high) cells within the exhausted population. However, in the presence of persistent Ag, the CD8(+) T cell response was not sustained and the overall size of the effector cytokine-producing pool eventually contracted to levels below that of controls. Thus, CD27-mediated costimulation can synergize with coinhibitory checkpoint blockade to switch off molecular programs for quiescence in exhausted T cell populations, but at the expense of losing precursor cells required to maintain a response.